Halifax Shipyard Workers Unaware of Lead Contamination

Lead-based paint abatement

Yet another reason all workers should have to go through lead inspector training: The CBC reports that workers in Halifax stripping paint off an old ship weren’t aware of the high levels of lead contained in the paint and didn’t know how to safely remove it.

The HMCS Toronto, a Canadian warship first launched in 1990, has been docked in Irving Shipbuilding’s Halifax Shipyard since April for refitting. When it was first inspected, the Nova Scotia Department of Labour cited a “fine red dust” on beams, scattered red paint chips, and burn marks on the paint. That red paint is a type of lead-based paint that used to be common for sealing and protecting metal on ships.

The inspector ordered Irving Shipbuilders to take care of the issue. However, no one seemed to have passed this information on to the workers actually on the ship from day to day. With that much lead, workers should be wearing respirator masks, but no one was told anything until a complaint from electrician Liz Cummings.

“We didn’t know from one boat to the next whether there was red lead. It was confusing,” Cummings said. The confusion was compounded by an “in-rush of brand new employees [and] subcontractors,” on the yard, where more than 1,200 people are employed — twice as many as the year before.

Irving Shipbuilding has issued a statement attesting that it “takes the safety of our workforce seriously,” and have since taken measures to update its lead-exposure risk assessment, put all employees through lead abatement training for awareness, given employees lead renovator training to address hazards, and cleaned the shipyard of “any accumulated dust or paint chips.”

Dust is a major source of lead contamination, and it’s recommended that even households thoroughly wet-mop surfaces every two to three weeks. Prior to World War II, paints could contain as much as 40% lead by weight, but lead-based paint abatement initiatives have reduced allowable levels since then.

Twenty-six workers had their blood levels tested for lead, and each turned out normal. Irving called the situation an “apparent lapse” in safety and lead inspector training standards.

Cummings said the situation has improved thanks to the lead certification courses. “Mostly everybody’s very safe, but… things can get missed,” Cummings said. “Sometimes people are in a rush and sometimes they’re being rushed, but by and large, they’re better now. They’re definitely better now.” See this link for more.

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